As the political and opportunistic feeding frenzy continues unabated around her, Terri Schiavo completed a week without food or water on Friday, sliding closer to death.
While the brain-damaged Florida woman’s parents suffered one legal defeat after another, including all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, in their fight to have her feeding tube reinserted, Schiavo herself was said to be fading fast.
“Her face is beginning to sink in,” said Suzanne Vitadamo, Schiavo’s sister.
The parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, who have battled Schiavo’s husband Michael for seven years in a feud over whether she should be allowed to die, clung to the hope of winning one last court case before a federal judge in Tampa.
But the prospects appeared dim after the U.S. Supreme Court refused on Thursday to hear the case, a state judge rejected an attempt by Gov. Bush to take Schiavo into protective custody and the Florida Supreme Court rebuffed his appeal.
Schiavo, 41, has been in what state courts have accepted is a “persistent vegetative state” since a 1990 heart attack starved her brain of oxygen. The courts have accepted testimony from Michael Schiavo and other witnesses that she would not have wanted to be kept alive artificially.
Doctors said after the feeding tube was removed last Friday that Schiavo could be expected to survive one to two weeks without water or nutrition. They also said that patients in her condition seem to suffer little or no distress when dying through starvation.
But the Schindlers say depriving their daughter of the feeding tube was “barbaric.” They also say she responds to them and could yet recover. Schiavo’s parents, joined by Evangelical Christians, anti-abortion activists and conservative right-to-life campaigners, launched a furious last-ditch legal effort to prolong her life.
Lobbied by the Christian right which has felt emboldened since helping President Bush win re-election last November, the Republican-controlled Congress passed a law last weekend giving federal courts jurisdiction in the case.
Opinion polls show most Americans oppose the unusual Congressional intervention in a family dispute, something usually handled in state courts not federal courts, and Congress has been criticized for exploiting a tragedy for political gain.
So far, its efforts have been for naught.
Gov. Bush, the president’s brother, has also come under fire for trying to use state agencies, such as the social welfare services, to try to circumvent court decisions.
Bush on Thursday asked Circuit Court Judge George Greer to allow the state’s Department of Children and Families to take Schiavo into care because of allegations of abuse and after a neurologist said he believed she might not be in a persistent vegetative state.
Greer, the state judge whose order led to the feeding tube’s removal, rejected the state government’s arguments. The Florida Supreme Court dismissed an appeal.
The Schindlers meanwhile lodged a new petition with a federal judge, U.S. District Court Judge James Whittemore, in Tampa, adding new counts to a complaint he had previously rejected and arguing that state courts erred in deciding that Schiavo would want to die if incapacitated.
After a three-hour hearing Thursday evening, Whittemore went to consider his ruling. It was unclear when it would be handed down.
“We’re still hopeful,” said Schiavo’s sister, Vitadamo. “It’s minute by minute for us now so we’re very prayerful.”
Outside the hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida, where Schiavo was being cared for, around 100 demonstrators became increasingly despondent and tense.
Several times during the evening, the crowd broke into raucous chants of “give Terri water, give Terri water.” They quieted down at the urging of a clergyman who asked them to show some respect for the ill people in the hospice.